WHF-PA – Member Spotlight Interview
Senior Development Project Manager, Stone Sherick Consulting Group
WHF-PA is so pleased to highlight the work and accomplishments of one of its members, Angela Steele, Senior Development Project Manager at Stone Sherick Consulting Group. Founded in 2002 as Sherick Project Management, Inc., Stone Sherick Consulting Group (SSCG) is a certified WBE consulting firm specializing in Real Estate Development and Owner’s Representative Services for residential, commercial, and industrial real estate development projects. Angela joined SSGC in March 2020, which proved not great timing given COVID-19, but she has found the team very supportive during her remote transition. Before joining SSGC, Angela worked in Project Management for NewCourtland Elder Services in Philadelphia and BRIDGE Housing Corporation in San Francisco.
Angela received a B.A. in Cultural and Social Anthropology from Stanford University and completed her MBA at UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business. At Haas, she was in the Interdisciplinary Certificate in Real Estate program and got to take classes at Berkeley Law and the College of Environmental Design (CED). This program exposed her not just to real estate finance and commercial real estate, but also to housing policy, the history of residential segregation, and affordable housing development.
WHF-PA recently met with Angela to learn more about her career path and the advice she would share with others as an emerging leader in the affordable housing industry.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in northwest New Jersey in a small town called Phillipsburg. (… What exit?) It is the last exit on 22 before you cross the Delaware River into Easton, PA. I grew up with my mother, older sister and younger brother and we lived in public housing for most of my childhood. I participated in a different sport every season as a kid and played rugby in college. Now, I just walk or bike because my knees are retired. I still love watching basketball and the Summer Olympics. Between 2002-2008, I lived in China for three years participating in various language study, internship, volunteer, and research programs. My Mandarin is still conversational but is fading fast. I just bought a house in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia and have started many COVID projects that remain unfinished.
How did your career path lead you to be Senior Development Project Manager at Stone Sherick?
I have had a very meandering career path! As a first-generation college student, I was laser-focused on getting my degree and did not think much about what was going to come next. After graduation, one of my rugby teammates was working at Google and helped me get a job. I worked there for six months before going to China on a Fulbright Scholarship. Returning to the United States at the end of 2008, I was unemployed for several months during the Great Recession before accepting a teaching job in Philadelphia. However, my teaching career was short-lived, and I moved to Oakland, CA in 2010 and accepted a job with Walking Tree Travel in educational travel programs. After four years of helping to build a small business and traveling the world, I knew that I needed to gain new skills if I wanted to advance. I was also questioning what I wanted to accomplish in my work. While I believe strongly in education and second-language acquisition, I wanted to have a more direct social impact. So, I decided to go to business school to improve my business acumen and embark on my next journey.
I was intrigued by real estate development once I started to learn how much power developers have to create (or restrict) access to housing, jobs, transit – even clean air! – through the products they create. However, I was not initially excited to enter the real estate industry. (When you attend commercial real estate conferences where attendees actually say out loud that they “can’t wait until all of Oakland is gentrified” without a second thought that they are speaking to a Black person who will be one of the many displaced by increasing rents, it can dampen your enthusiasm.) I spent a lot of time with my career counselors discussing if I had made a huge mistake and they encouraged me to keep talking to people and to explore affordable housing. That is where I found a part of the real estate industry that aligned more closely with my values. I interned at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco and volunteered as a Board Fellow for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation. After graduation I started working as a Project Manager at BRIDGE Housing Corporation, then worked at NewCourtland Elder Services, and now Stone Sherick Consulting Group. I am excited about my new role at Stone Sherick Consulting Group because I get to work with clients throughout the Mid-Atlantic. In just a few months, I have already learned about the challenges and opportunities facing affordable housing developers in New York, Delaware, and Maryland.
Housing development and finance has historically been a male-dominated industry. How did you break into it and what were some of your challenges along the way?
Honestly, I think the biggest challenge was seeing a space for myself in the field and proving myself in order to get my first job offer. There are not many Black women in executive positions to look up to or to learn how they navigated a career in real estate. While I was very fortunate to make my transition while I was in school – I had career counselors helping me make connections and find opportunities and I could tap into the Berkeley network for internships and full-time job opportunities – I also had to confront implicit (and sometimes explicit) racial bias in job interviews and prove that I was worth the gamble since I only had academic and internship experience in real estate. Throughout the process, I had to remain resolved and not succumb to doubts that I could be successful in this field.
What is an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
During my second year at Haas, I co-founded a group called the Race Inclusion Initiative. We conducted qualitative and quantitative research on race inclusion in academics, admissions, and student life and made recommendations on how to work toward racial equity. Successive classes have built upon and improved our initial work and continue to use evidence-based decision making to address racial iniquities.
How did mentors influence your life?
I always had teachers, administrators and coaches who pushed me to explore my curiosity, take on leadership positions and pursue opportunities outside of my town. In real estate, I have had two brilliant women mentors – Smitha Seshadri and Diane Olmstead. In affordable housing, conditions are constantly changing. I worked with Smitha at Habitat for Humanity and BRIDGE Housing. She encouraged me to ask questions, to always seek to understand, and to keep learning if I want my projects to succeed. Diane was my official ULI Mentor in San Francisco and she taught me to pursue opportunities that are not only in line with my values, but also in line with my vision for my life. She reminded me that it is not worth feeling good about the work you do if you do not enjoy doing it.
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
It is so difficult to give blanket advice that would be relevant to every type of organization. So, my general recommendation is to understand the culture of your organization and what gets rewarded. Does your organization value competition and results? If you perform consistently, make sure you get credit for your accomplishments, and promote yourself, will you be rewarded? Does your organization value innovation and pushing boundaries? If you create a new and improved process or product, will you be rewarded? Does your organization value seniority and hierarchy? If you work for the company for 20 years, will you be rewarded? I think women often want to work hard and let their work speak for itself, but that might not always be rewarded. Truly understanding the culture of an organization can help women determine what is required for advancement and if they are willing to take those steps. For example, if you are not a competitive or self-promoting person, but that is rewarded at your organization, you may have to adopt new behaviors to stand out. I think continuously reflecting on organizational culture will also help women evaluate what they might want to change once they reach positions of influence.
What is one leadership lesson you have learned in your career?
Find people who are willing to disagree with you but who lead with solutions. I think leaders must constantly fight against groupthink and conformity. Dissension and debate, that is not just performative but is driving toward solutions, is needed to refine and improve ideas.